Travel: Longest Travel day EVER.

The last leg of my trip, I was excited to rendezvous with some good friends from home sweet home, New Jersey. ūüôā Unfortunately I was meeting with them in Athens, Greece, and getting there from Italy is not quite as straight forward as it seems with the EuroRail Pass. I first had to manage to get myself to the Eastern side of Italy to a town called Bari. From there, I was to hop a ferry (paying only the fuel surcharge and port tax) which would get me to the Grecian Peninsula Town of Patras (I’d figure out the last leg when I got to Greece.)

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Rather than rushing through each transit option, and to avoid a stopover on my train, I chose a 7 AM train. This allowed me a few hours to explore Bari before being sequestered on a ferry for the 18-hour cruise time.

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Arriving in this quaint town around 10 AM, I strolled to the port to acquire my tickets and stretch my legs. Being a port town, the sun was bright, the air was fresh with salt, and the atmosphere was relaxed.

2013-06-03 05.49.38After obtaining my tickets and boarding time, I decided to embrace the concept of aimless wandering, particularly because I hadn’t planned on having time to explore Bari.

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I first ventured into the Basilica di San Nicola.¬†¬†Built between 1087 and 1197 during the¬†Italo-Norman¬†domination of¬†Apulia, the foundation of this church has roots in the theft of St. Nicholas‘s relics from his original shrine in¬†Myra¬†(present-day Turkey).

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 According to the legend, the saint, having passed by the city on his way to Rome, had chosen Bari as his burial place. Despite the competition against Venice, Bari succeeded, and the relics safely landed on May 9, 1087 under the custody of its Greek custodians and Muslim masters.

It has maintained  religious significance as an important pilgrimage destination both for Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians from Eastern Europe.

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I paused to take a picture of my self with St. Nicholas himself! The storage place for luggage was closed since it was the off-season and a Sunday, so I did all this exploration with an approximately 25-lb backpack strapped to my back.

Travel: Napoli Underground

Italy is a surprisingly long peninsula, requiring my trip from Venice to Napoli to last around 7 hours. Therefore, I took a night train and arrived in Napoli in the wee morning hour of 7 AM. After hauling my backpack to my hostel, I departed to explore the historic centre, without an inkling of a plan. (I had chosen Napoli as my rendezvous point so that I had easy day-trip access to Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii. )

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Don’t get me wrong, this city is the only one on my list that legitimately terrified me. At present, the city has one of the highest crime rates in Italy; high unemployment paired with severe waste management issues continue to plague the city.¬†Rumors¬†of blackmail, extortion,and illicit contract tendering have emerged questioning the ethical viability of the local government. Read up on¬†Camorra Organized Crime for a better understanding of the powerful opponents that challenge elected officials.

 

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Some of the most interesting churches I have visited are here. In my wanderings, I stumbled into the Church of Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio ad Arco, an abode that has gained a cult-like following for the dark, yet hopeful atmosphere housed beneath it’s floors.

 

Traditionally, Roman Catholics view Purgatory as a state or place of purification or temporary punishment. It is where souls that died in a state of grace are believed to be preparing for the Beatific Vision in Heaven. No one in Purgatory will remain forever, or be banished to hell.

BelowWings

Origins of the ‘cult’ can be traced back to the early 1600s, when a church sought to establish a liturgical link between the living in the dead. The modes of worship for these souls vary, but express the possibility of developing a relationship through the ‘adoption’ and caring for of an individual’s remains. This ancient cult, survived despite wars and famines, and was so pervasive that Cardinal Ursi prohibited it in 1969, although it is still practiced.

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One of the most famous remains is ‘Princess Lucia.’¬†According to legend, the skull was that of an 18th-century teenage bride, whose tragic death evolved into her becoming the¬†unofficial protector of young brides.

 

My next destination was a stop at San Lorenzo Maggiore; as a church and monastery, its presence is rooted in the¬†Franciscan¬†order, one that existing during¬†St.Francis of Assisi‘s lifetime.¬†Its location is at the precise geographic center of the historic center of the ancient Greek-Roman city. I was able to explore the streets of the original Roman Market at the intersection of¬†via San Gregorio Armeno¬†and¬†via dei Tribunali.

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Travel: Hamburg Friends

Having taken an international and cross-disciplinary class that involved video conference calls across time zones, I managed to accumulate a variety of friends scattered around Europe. Unfortunately, the only country that my travel plans have been able to accommodate (given the time constraint) is the vast and diverse Germany. The first friend I visited is working now, so I did not approach Germany in a geographically efficient manner, and arrived on a sunday morning so I could spend the day with him.

It was amazingly relaxing to be shown the city by a local as I had no prior itinerary for Hamburg. We walked and caught up, and witnessed some pretty memorable sights along the way.

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After the old city hall was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1842 (You will hear more about this later), it took 44 years to rebuild the current city hall. Seven architects who were led by Martin Haller designed it in the neo-renaissance style, and it cost an estimated 80 Million Euros.

The building continues to beguile the population even today, because a secret room was found in behind a file cabinet in 1971, so the room count is estimated t 647, but it is speculated that the Rathaus continues to keep some secrets.

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Saint Michaelis is one of the five main Lutheran churches in Hamburg, and certainly the most famous. While the exterior is subtlety conservative, when you enter the doors, rare protestant opulence greets you. It dominates the city Skyline with its 132-meter spire that exemplifies classic Baroque architecture. Furthermore, it is hard to miss the iconic bronze statue that towers of the main entrance showing the Archangel conquering Satan in all his glory.

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Hamburg did not used to have a lighthouse; it was therefore necessary that a lighted boat guide the ships to safe harbor. Every night, this boat would venture into the darkness of the endless sea and light the way for weary travelers.

 

 

 

We relaxed at the end of our day by strolling along the Reeperbahn, so named because the older ropewalks were relocated in the 1620s to this region. This is distinctly demonstrated by the Low German phrases of Reep, meaning rope, and Bahn, meaning track.

It is also Hamburg’s district for nightlife with Bars and Clubs on one street, and the Red Light Distract just a mere street over. A large variety of strip clubs, brothels, and sex shops line the street in a blatant manner. This is also the historic area for some of Europe’s oldest and most renowned brothels, such as Dollhouse, Luxor, and the Eros Center; although all have closed down due to the economy or the 1980s aids scare.

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I enjoyed a local Hamburg beer called Astra. Beer is not normally to my taste, but when in Germany. ūüôā